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Opening Ceremonies

Master of Ceremonies - George Diller, NASA, Public Affairs Information Specialist

George Diller is a NASA Public Affairs Information Specialist at the John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida. He has worked in the Cape Canaveral public affairs arena for 34 years.

Diller is the lead information specialist for NASA’s expendable launch vehicle fleet and the planetary, astrophysics and earth resources spacecraft they carry. These have included NASA’s probes launched to asteroids and comets, the moon, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Mercury and Pluto.  He was also the lead for the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope and the five maintenance and repair missions.  Diller supports the NASA launches occurring at Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. 

Diller is also the principal information specialist for tracking, data and telemetry for launches from Kennedy Space Center.  He serves as the primary liaison with the NASA-KSC Weather Office, the USAF 45th Weather Squadron and the NOAA National Weather Service.  He also serves as the NASA Public Affairs member of the KSC hurricane ride-out team.

He has served as a launch commentator on NASA Television for the launch countdown of both expendable launch vehicles and the space shuttle including STS-135, the final Space Shuttle mission with the launch of Atlantis. Diller was also the countdown commentator for the Atlas V rocket carrying the Mars Science Laboratory with the Curiosity rover.

Diller received the Aviation Week Harry Kolcum Award for aerospace communications professionals in 2004, was selected as the NASA Public Affairs Employee of the Year for 2005, and received the NASA astronaut’s Silver Snoopy award in 2007.

He is a native Floridian having grown up in Sarasota, St. Petersburg and Clearwater.  He holds degrees in communications and business administration from the University of South Florida in Tampa.  Prior to joining NASA, he worked 11 years in radio broadcasting at stations in Clearwater, Tampa and Orlando and had among his responsibilities covering the Kennedy Space Center.

Diller is the current treasurer of the American Meteorological Society’s Cape Canaveral Chapter.  He is also past treasurer of the Florida Lighthouse Association and the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse Foundation, having served both organizations for eight years. 

He is the NASA Public Affairs Officer for the NASA Railroad, a 40-mile short line at the Kennedy Space Center and a long-time member in the Florida East Coast Railway Society and the Atlantic Coast Line & Seaboard Air Line Historical Society.    

George Diller has lived in Titusville, Fla., since October 1978.


President, Science Olympiad - Dr. Gerard Putz

Dr. Gerard Putz is currently President and Co-Founder of Science Olympiad, a non-profit organization promoting Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education through competition, professional development and hands-on learning. 

He served as the Macomb County Science Center Director and Coordinator of Gifted and Talented Programs at the Macomb Intermediate School District (MISD) in Michigan for more than 30 years.

He began his career teaching high school Biology, Chemistry, Earth Science and Special Ability Science Programs for the Detroit Public Schools. Dr. Putz has lectured at dozens of universities and has made more than 100 presentations at science education and gifted and talented conferences across the US and in Japan.

Judging the responses from teachers, students and university hosts involved with Science Olympiad, the program is making a difference, inspiring STEM careers and helping teachers connect with their students. In 2013, nearly 7,000 teams from 50 states participated in Science Olympiad clubs and tournaments.  Millions of K-12 students and teachers have experienced Science Olympiad over the past 30 years, and it has made a lasting impact on the educational landscape of the United States.

Dr. Putz holds several advanced degrees, including a Bachelor's Degree in Science from the University of Detroit, MI, a Masters in Guidance and Counseling from Wayne State University, MI, a Master's in Arts and Liberal Sciences from Wesleyan University, CT, and a Doctorate in Secondary Education from Wayne State University. Dr. Putz has also attained the rank of Lt. Colonel in the US Army Air Defense Artillery. 

He has served on the boards of many non-profits, associations and community groups and was chosen as the "National Outstanding Science Supervisor" by the United States National Science Supervisors Association.

US Army Service Information for Lt. Colonel Gerard J. Putz:
Commissioned in August, 1961 Active Duty: 1961 to 1963: Missile Launch Officer, Caswell Army Base, Caswell, Maine Reserve Duty: 1963 to 1969, 1978 to 1993: Fire Control Platoon Leader, Utica (MI), Commander 426th Chemical Detachments, US Army Garrison, Detroit (MI), Battalion Maintenance Officer (CO), TRADOC, Fire Power Directorate, CD Staff Officer, Ft. Monroe (VA), Human Engineering Lab, Aberdeen (MD), Command and General Staff College, Wesley College, Dover (DE) and Hopewell (VA)

Keynote Speaker - Col. Joe Kittinger

It was the "highest step in the world".  Joe Kittinger made history as he ascended to 102,800 feet in a high-altitude balloon and jumped to Earth, setting four world records. During a distinguished USAF career, Joe served as a test pilot, Squadron Commander, and Vice Wing Commander, and he spent 11 months as a POW in Vietnam. He retired as a Colonel and subsequently set two world ballooning records and won numerous ballooning competitions.

Joe is a National Aeronautics Association Elder Statesman of Aviation; was awarded a Lifetime Achievement in Aviation trophy from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum; was made an Honorary U.S. Army Golden Knight; and is enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame, the U.S. Ballooning Hall of Fame and the National Skydiving Museum Hall of Fame. To date, Joe has logged more than 16,800 hours of flying time in over 93 aircraft. His adventures are detailed in his autobiography, Come Up and Get Me.  

In 2012 he participated in the Red Bull Stratos project as capsule communicator, directing Felix Baumgartner on his record-breaking 39-kilometer (24 mi) freefall from Earth's stratosphere.

Born in Tampa, Florida, Kittinger was educated at the Bolles School in Jacksonville, Florida, and the University of Florida. Kittinger lives in the Orlando area and is still active in the aviation community as an aerospace consultant and and he is a member of the Aviation Speaker's Bureau.

Watch as Col. Kittinger is involved in two historic jumps from the Edge of Space


President, University of Central Florida -
Dr. John Hitt

John C. Hitt became the fourth president of the University of Central Florida on March 1, 1992. A physiological psychologist, he had prepared for this presidency throughout his career as a scholar, dean, provost, vice president for academic affairs, and interim university president. He says that he knew he was home when he first stepped on the UCF campus.

Under President Hitt’s leadership, enrollment at UCF has nearly tripled, the number of doctoral degrees awarded each year has increased eightfold, research funding has increased from $28 million up to $133 million a year, and UCF has founded its own College of Medicine.

President Hitt has served the public with distinction, including leadership positions on boards such as the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, EDUCAUSE, the NCAA Presidents Commission, and the Conference USA Board. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, the NCAA Division I Board of Directors, and he is a member of the Florida Council of 100.  President Hitt chaired the Governor’s Select Task Force on Healthcare Professional Liability Insurance and founded the Florida High-Tech Corridor Council.

In recent years, President Hitt has received a number of prestigious awards and honors, such as the Junior Achievement Spirit of Achievement Award, placement among the Orlando Sentinel’s 25 Most Powerful People in Central Florida and Orlando Magazine’s 50 Most Powerful People, the Orlando Business Journal’s first-ever Legacy Award, and the Orlando Sentinel’s 2005 Central Floridian of the Year Award.

President Hitt has been married to the former Martha Halsted for 52 years; they have two children and two grandchildren.